By: Taylor Munson and Amelia Albanese
In January of 1989, Boise State student Eric Love organized a march to the Idaho statehouse to peacefully advocate for the recognition of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday in Idaho. Over a year later, in 1990, Idaho officially recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Day as a statewide holiday, making it one of the last five states to do so.
It is now 28 years later, and the peaceful protest that took place in 1989 has become two weeks worth of events planned to celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy at Boise State. In addition to the annual march and rally that took place Monday, Jan. 15, these events include a discussion about Title IX, a movie showing, a keynote address featuring Melissa Harris-Perry and a diversity fair. The main organizers behind these events are members of the MLK Living Legacy Planning Committee. Francisco Salinas advises the committee and also works as the Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
“In the state of Idaho, you can credit the students of Boise State for really bringing the recognition of the Dr. King holiday to the entire state,” Salinas said.
According to Salinas, the many events scheduled following Martin Luther King Human Rights Day are intended to recognize not only MLK’s legacy, but how that fits into the current issues of today.
“Some of these issues the civil rights movement brought up, brought out front, brought right into people’s living rooms, there was a popular impression those issues were resolved,” Salinas said. “Many of us who work closely with these issues know they haven’t been resolved; they have mutated, they have evolved, they have set before us different kinds of challenges, new challenges, maybe even more entrenched challenges.”
Boise State President Bob Kustra acknowledged this in an email to students on Saturday, Jan. 13. The email addressed recent words spoken by President Trump.
“On the occasion of the national celebration of the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr., it pains me to have to speak about words so completely contrary to those we would hear from Dr. King,” Kustra wrote. “But I feel the words recently spoken by the President of the United States require those in leadership to speak out.”
Kustra also encouraged students to partake in MLK events, such as the march to the Idaho capitol on Monday, Jan. 15
Boise State student Tanisha Jae Newton is a junior studying history, secondary education, sociology and political science and wants to become a professor of black history. Newton spoke at the MLK rally in front of the Idaho statehouse about what she believes MLK’s legacy means for today.
“The stigma around being a pot-stirrer seems to diminish as well when we internalize (being an agitator), which is especially needed when the pot that is being stirred is bubbling over in the toxicities of this hateful and divisive administration,” Newton said.
Boise State history professor Jill Gill specializes in race, rights and religion in U.S. history and also leads the new Marilyn Shuler Human Rights Initiative.
“Idaho’s relationship with MLK day is fascinating,” Gill wrote in an email. “Idaho was among the last five states to pass the holiday and there was considerable resistance in the legislature to pass it. (It) took four years and a statewide movement to get it passed—barely—in 1990.”
According to Gill, Boise State’s MLK events are meant to highlight and learn about community efforts that address inequalities in our society, and to put a focus on social justice.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice,” Gill wrote. “The holiday in his name calls us all to see where we are on the arc, what’s happening, and learn how we can further progress along it.”
According to Salinas, aside from the MLK day march and rally, Talk-O-Tuesday and the keynote speaker, all of the other events are new as of this year.
“(The MLK planning committee) has taken it upon themselves to expand the legacy of Dr. King from just being recognized one weekend a year to trying to influence campus climate throughout the year,” Salinas said.
One of these new events is a discussion about Title IX. According to Salinas, an MLK committee member and other experts will be present to facilitate discussion on this topic.
“This is part of the legacy of Dr. King, to speak to the needs of oppressed groups,” Salinas said. “We know in our society there’s inequity based on gender, so Title IX is an important thing to think about.”
The keynote speaker this year will be Melissa Harris-Perry. Additionally, there will be a movie showing of the film “Marshall,” highlighting the story of Thurgood Marshall. There will also be a diversity fair and celebration and a leadership development workshop called “Building the Beloved Community.”
“The beloved community is one of Dr. King’s concepts and it frames the nature of the work we should all be collectively trying to build towards,” Salinas said. “These conversations will be unpacking that a little bit. Legislation matters. National policy matters. How we treat each other day-to-day, in the classroom, on the bus, wherever we are, that’s building the beloved community too.”